Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Proust's suffering and happiness

If you've seen the film Little Miss Sunshine, you know Steve Carell's character explains that Marcel Proust is considered as great or greater a writer than Shakespeare - whose life was filled with suffering until the last few years of his life.

At the end Proust said his happiest days were those fraught with suffering; that the time he ought to have considered himself happy were dull and unfulfilling.

Knowing me as you do (if you're a regular cp blog reader), I have to ponder his reflection and make a comment or two.

Fortunately for you, I won't use Proust's writing style because he was exceedingly loquacious, and by comparison my notes will be as concise as a three-year old's short term memory.

My first response: Hmmmm. I'm happy and don't consider my life unnecessarily difficult. I have faced challenges that most might consider suffering - like breast cancer, several biopsies, lumpectomies and surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, unpleasant ups and downs of any career in journalism and the arts, PTSD from the many traumatizing experiences I experienced as a child (my family moved 17 times by the time I was 17), Air Force veteran and journalist; a serious bout of depression; one truly miserable relationship (among others that were quite pleasant)-

Whoa. A biographer only reading this list without actually knowing me or having the perspective of reading the extended list of what I've done that is considered exciting, positive, valuable, fulfilling and/or rewarding would not have the slightest idea or understandng of who I am . Mostly because - except for that one relationship - I've enjoyed taking on life's tests and challenges.

I mean, bring it on.

What I'm saying is that what others may consider suffering, I take as simply one more thing in life with which to deal, along with all the other wonderful things I've been so fortunate to experience.

I have a feeling what could have happened to Proust is that he also got a emotional kick out of all the things life handed him - but then didn't have an awareness of the emotional impact so many of his challenges had on him. His life was full because of all the physical and emotional challenges he faced daily.

Then, like it happens with most of us, when he no longer had that emotional kick, he realized something was missing - finally having an awareness the impact those experiences had on him.

And perhaps at the end he simply gave in to what was handed him and relaxed because he wasn't forced to deal with a deluge of circumstances that previously made him feel fully alive day in and day out.

I read that another great novelist, Leo Tolstoy, was so successful that he basically allowed himself to "go to seed." People around him did everything for him - to a ridiculous degree - as he was left free to write and write and write some more.

That sort of "man of leisure" existence could become boring and tedious for someone like Proust, making life much less fun or engaging.

With success, at last, Proust may have found he no longer had the urgent sense of living with fewer stressful challenges that used to fill his life and provide the passion for creating his novels whenever he could.

So perhaps his definition of happiness was simply to be fully engaged - emotionally and physically - with life every moment, because he was forced to.

Then he didn't realize how to adapt, creating that sense of urgency and passion within himself when it wasn't shoved in his face.

IMO, happiness is a state of being we choose to have - no matter what is or isn't happening in our lives. And feeling fully alive - completely engaged in life - is also a choice that we make every minute of every day, whether we realize it or not.

A great example of making attitude choices in life is the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray's character morphs from a self-centered, arrogant, unhappy, immature jerk into a fulfilled man - who learns how to live happily ever after when he decides to enjoy - and share - every minute of his life by becoming genuine, empathetic, compassionate and generous.

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